The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (aka The 7 1/2 Deaths… in the UK) is definitely a book where it’s best to go in blind. To pique your interest: there’s amnesia, a Groundhog Day-style loop, and plenty of murder — both of Evelyn Hardcastle and of others — that must be solved. If that’s enough to hook you, don’t read the rest of the review for maximum effect going in! If you need a bit more though, here’s my take on it.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle follows a narrator who wakes up in a forest with amnesia; he doesn’t even remember his own name. He stumbles to an old manor where his concerned friends tell him he’s one of the many guests invited to a large celebration thrown that night by the Hardcastles. After a long and tense day, he finally sleeps… and wakes up once more on the day of the celebration, in another man’s body. Our hero finds out he has eight days to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. Each day, he is trapped in a different “host” body. If he doesn’t solve the murder, he must repeat the whole loop again and again, for as long as it takes until there’s justice for poor Evelyn.
The thing about this book is that I adored basically all of it except the ending. And as it’s a mystery/whodunnit at its core, that… unfortunately does ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the book.
I do think it gets a lot of things right. The premise itself is fantastic, and it’s used to its full advantage. Each “host” has a different personality, and this personality pokes through, aids, and distracts our hero. One host has a keen mind but is extremely physically unfit, another is rash and keeps charging into trouble. All eight are also active on the same day, meaning he-slash-they can and must help each other’s plans. The intersection of different storylines and perspectives is the best aspect of the book. Seven Deaths is nearly 17 hours long in audiobook form and I was genuinely intrigued and in suspense for most of them.
There’s also deeper underlying themes woven in, the most important of which is justice and forgiveness. Can people forgive each other even for the most heinous crimes? At what point does just punishment turn into cruelty? I did feel like Turton stumbled at places here. As it’s a mystery novel, some twists must necessarily be left until pretty late in the story and thus don’t have quite enough room to breathe, and for the full implications to sink in properly. However, the book still raised some interesting questions about mercy, justice, and forgiveness that I’ll continue turning over in my mind.
As for the part I really didn’t like… well, as I said before, it’s the ending, so I’ll keep my critique vague and add more under spoiler tags. In short, I felt like the careful exploration of different motivations and perspectives was thrown away in favour of yet one more twist. Even more frustratingly, the result went against the book’s core message. In my opinion, the book genuinely didn’t need this one extra twist — it was twisty and fun enough! If it had wrapped up neatly about 50 pages earlier, it would have probably been a 5-star book for me.
Now for more precise SPOILERS [highlight to read]: A 10-year-old murdering her brother (and some other kid)??? Is there any explanation for why she did it other than “Oh well she’s a psychopath”? Did I miss something? And the casual dismissal of Evelyn by the characters as just plain evil and deserving death, when they’d spent the whole time building up that even Anna was redeemable? I would have accepted Evelyn as the killer fine — and in fact was half-thinking that’d be the case — but I struggled to accept the motivation.
To sum up, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an imperfect book that still has a lot going for it. The ending didn’t work for me, but it might for you, and if the overall idea intrigues you, definitely give the book a try.